Homer Alaska - Schools

Story last updated at 1:35 PM on Wednesday, March 14, 2012

West Homer nominated as 'Blue Ribbon School'

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff Writer

In August, West Homer Elementary's third- through sixth-graders received a personal visit from Mike Hanley, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development. Hanley told the students their success, including high Standard Based Assessments scores, was being noted across Alaska.

"Sitting in my office in Juneau, I was reading about you," he told the assembled students. "I told the governor, 'You know what is going on in Homer?' You're doing an awesome job here."

Now, WHES has been nominated by the state department for recognition as a Blue Ribbon School, an honor reserved for schools "that are producing outstanding results for all students regardless of race or socioeconomic status," wrote Aba S. Kumi, project manager of the U.S. Department of Education's National Blue Ribbon Schools Program, in a letter to Ray Marshall, WHES principal.

The program is part of the U.S. Department of Education's effort to identify and distribute information about best school leadership and teaching practices. Schools are nominated based on two criteria: high performance or improvement.

"National Blue Ribbon Schools serve as models for other schools throughout the nation and details of their achievements are shared on the U.S. Department of Education's website," wrote Kumi.

While the 221 hard-working students at WHES were preparing for spring break, Marshall and the school's faculty and staff spent last week completing the 28-page application supporting the school's nomination.

Student academic achievements noted by Marshall included:

• In the past six years, WHES has consistently outperformed the Alaska state average on Standard Based Assessments in reading, writing and math by an average that exceeds 10 percent;

• In the last six years, WHES has outperformed the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District 96 percent of the time;

• On the average, more than 50 percent of WHES students perform at the advanced level on the Standard Based Assessments annually.

"At West Homer our mission is to embrace the belief that learning today in a global society is a life long journey," wrote Marshall in summary.

"Teachers, parents and students in partnership shall accomplish this within a healthy, nurturing and safe environment of academic excellence."

Established in 1982, the Blue Ribbon Schools Program has honored more than 6,000 schools across the country. Nineteen Alaska schools have been recognized, three within KPBSD:

• Aurora Borealis Charter School, Kenai, 2010;

• McNeil Canyon Elementary School, Homer, 2004;

• William H. Seward Elementary School, Seward, 2008.

Applications from nominated schools are subjected to two reviews. The first looks for completeness, accuracy and potential eligibility issues. The second review examines eligibility compliance. Once reviews are completed, nominated schools must meet adequate yearly progress for the latest assessments, the results of which are announced late in the summer.

The U.S. Department of Education usually announces winning Blue Ribbon schools in September, with a ceremony in Washington, D.C. in mid-fall.